After 54 holes of the California State Fair Men's Championship over the holiday weekend, all that had been decided was a Bear was going to win.
That it was a Baylor Bear was more surprising than Sacramento Labor Day downpours.
Cody Paladino, a Baylor graduate from Kensington, Conn., playing in the State Fair as an excuse to visit a college friend in Modesto, shot a 6-under-par 66 in Monday's final round at Haggin Oaks' MacKenzie course. That gave him a three-round total of 14-under 200 and earned him a spot in a playoff against Cal Bear teammates Brandon Hagy (67) and Joel Stalter (66).
Hagy, the defending State Fair champion, and Stalter are seniors and roommates ranked among the top 50 amateurs in the world and were vital cogs in one of the greatest seasons in college golf when Cal won 11 of 13 tournaments in 2012-13.
Paladino's amateur ranking, depending on the source, is between 600 and 1,000.
Hagy was eliminated with a par on the second playoff hole. Stalter birdied all three playoff holes. That wasn't good enough when Paladino birdied Nos. 1 and 18, then eagled No. 1 with a 15-foot putt.
Paladino, a shorter hitter than either Hagy or Stalter, hadn't birdied either Nos. 1 or 18, both relatively easy par 5s, in six tries during regulation.
"It crossed my mind that I was at a disadvantage playing par 5s," Paladino said. "I knew I had to make birdies, and I knew I would probably have to make them a little more craftily."
Hagy, who started the final round tied for the lead, seized control by playing the first 10 holes in 5 under. At that point, he was two shots clear of Paladino and Stalter, both of whom started a shot behind and were playing in the group ahead.
That didn't bode well for the pursuers since Hagy had played Nos. 15-18 (Nos. 13, 9, 4 and 18 in Haggin's normal configuration) in 9 under par through the first two rounds.
But Hagy closed with eight straight pars, even having just 185 yards and a 7-iron for his second shot on the par-5 17th.
"I just tugged it left," he said. "If I hit the green, I probably win."
Stalter birdied No. 16 with an approach shot 2 inches from the hole and No. 18 with an 8-foot putt.
Stalter came to Cal from France, where traveling to America to play college sports is a rising trend. He has visions of overtaking Jean Van de Velde and Thomas Levet as his country's best-ever player but, for now, he's most proud of earning his way into Cal's Haas School of Business.
"That's my best accomplishment," he said.
Paladino had 235 yards for his second shot on No. 17. It was almost all carry over the green-fronting water and into the wind to the daunting front-right hole location.
He hit a "sawed-off" 3-wood within 20 feet of the hole. A wry smile gave away his opinion of his effort.
"It was one of the best shots of my life," Paladino said.
He two-putted for the tying birdie. He parred No. 18 before going 4 under in the three-hole playoff.
Paladino, 24, plans to turn pro this winter if he can earn status on a Latin American or Canadian Tour that feeds to a larger tour. If that doesn't work out, he said he will defend his State Fair title.
"Most definitely," he said. "I kind of like California."
Call The Bee's Steve Pajak, (916) 326-5526.